Owners of dangerously out of control dogs which harm others in a public place will face up to 18 months in prison under new guidelines for judges.

The tougher approach to the way those convicted of dangerous dog offences are treated by the courts will see more offenders jailed, more given community orders and fewer being discharged from August, the Sentencing Council said.

Courts will also be encouraged to ban irresponsible owners who put the public at risk from keeping dogs, order genuinely dangerous dogs to be put down and arrange compensation for victims.

Anyone using an animal as a weapon to attack someone would still be sentenced for assault, but the new guidelines cover both dogs which were dangerously out of control and the possession of banned dogs.

Anne Arnold, of the Sentencing Council, said: "This new sentencing guideline encourages courts to use their full powers when dealing with offenders so that they are jailed where appropriate.

"It also gives guidance to courts on making the best use of their powers so that people can be banned from keeping dogs, genuinely dangerous dogs can be put down and compensation can be paid to victims."

Under the guidelines, owners, or anyone in charge of a dangerously out of control dog, would face up to 18 months in jail, with the sentence rising to the legal maximum of two years in exceptional cases.

The most serious cases could include incidents where a dangerously out of control dog has caused serious injury during a sustained attack, injured a child, or where the owner has failed to respond to previous warnings or concerns.

Any deliberate goading of the dog by its owner would also be seen as an aggravating factor by judges.

But the owner could walk free from court with a discharge if the injuries caused were only minor, attempts had been made to regain control of the dog and safety steps had been taken by the owner.

In cases where no injury is caused, owners could still face up to six months in jail if they allow their dogs to be dangerously out of control in a public place, especially if children or other vulnerable people such as the elderly or disabled people were around at the time.

But the starting point for the most serious of offences would be a community order, while a lesser offence could attract a fine.

The council also issued guidelines for judges sentencing those involved in the possession of prohibited dogs, including the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.

The maximum sentence, it said, should be six months in custody, but all but the most serious of cases would attract fines or be discharged.

Training a dog to fight or possessing paraphernalia for dog fighting will also be seen as an aggravating factor attracting a tougher sentence following concerns from London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers.

The Dogs Trust said the changes would encourage courts to focus on "the key factors of culpability of the owner and the amount of harm to the victim".

Peter Chapman, chairman of the Magistrates' Association sentencing committee, added: "For the first time, magistrates will have all they need in one document to help them sentence the offender, disqualify him from future dog ownership if appropriate, order compensation to the victim and order destruction of the dog if necessary."

Steve Goody, director of external affairs at animal welfare charity Blue Cross, warned that tougher sentencing alone was not enough to prevent dog attacks.

"The campaign to reform the current Dangerous Dogs Act has been dragging on for some 20 years now," he said.

"We feel that there is an urgent need for preventative action, or dog attacks will continue to increase.

"We believe the introduction of useful, practical measures could be used specifically to target irresponsible dog owners before an attack happens."